Eating disorders are often explained as coping mechanisms. At the most basic level, an individual with a body image problem might resort to anorexia or bulimia to control that image. At a more abstract level, an individual might develop an eating disorder as a substitute mechanism to control some other unsatisfying or unfulfilled aspect of his or her life. A person will attempt to exert control over the one thing he or she can control, namely, food intake, when control is lost over another aspect of his or her life. Likewise, substance abuse and addiction can result from control issues. A person who cannot control stresses, relationships, employment circumstances, or family problems might resort to drugs or alcohol to control negative feelings.
What Do Eating Disorders Tell Us About Addiction?
Addiction specialists have long recognized that eating disorders and substance abuse are each driven by one or more physical, psychological, or spiritual causes. The physical causes are most readily understood. An individual might overeat if his brain chemistry is imbalanced in a manner that prevents him from feeling full or understanding that his appetite has been sated. A closer parallel to drug addiction is seen when individuals with eating disorders experience the same dopamine rush that drug addicts and alcoholics receive from those substances. An individual’s dopamine reward system can be compromised by food intake in the same way that drugs or alcohol affect that system.
The psychological causes behind eating disorders and substance addictions are generally related to depression, anxiety, and similar problems. A person who suffers from depression might attempt to self-medicate with certain types or greater quantities of food in what will ultimately be a failed attempt to ease the symptoms of depression. Whether that person uses food or drugs and alcohol to attack those symptoms, the relief is only temporary. Moreover, the attempted cure ultimately becomes a greater additional problem in itself. Physicians and addiction counselors often need to treat both substance abuse and an underlying psychological disorder simultaneously in order to effect a complete cure. If treatment is limited to just the eating disorder, or just drug or alcohol abuse, the psychological problem that first created the eating disorder or substance addiction will linger, and will likely lead to a relapse in the disorder or abuse.
The spiritual causes behind eating disorders and drug addiction are related to psychological disorders, but affect an individual on a more abstract level. An individual who feels no sense of purpose in his life or who has no connection to the world around him is more likely to feel a lack of purpose in his life. That lack of purpose and sense of emptiness can drive a person to seek comfort in food, or in drugs and alcohol. Long-term addiction recovery, particularly with most 12-step programs, focuses on giving a recovering addict a greater sense of purpose and a connection to a higher power in his life. Success in recovering from an eating disorder will also be more assured if that connection can be made.
The parallels between eating disorders and substance addictions are giving counselors greater insights into helping people who are affected by those disorders and addictions.
If you are having problems with your own food intake or with drugs and alcohol, please call the Last Resort Recovery Center near Austin, Texas, at 512-360-3600. We can provide information about treatment programs that can address the disorders and addictions, as well as the underlying causes that first created those problems.